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My 5 Cs of Leadership Development

There is no single definition of leadership, but it is important to understand it is behaviour, not a position. You don’t have to be a ‘born leader’ as, with a growth mindset, all leadership skills can be learned.

I want to share with you my own thoughts on how to cultivate leadership within yourself and others. This is based on my personal experiences and insights from medicine, motherhood and coaching, and I hope it prompts you to reconsider your potential as a leader.  I’ve categorised my reflections into five overlapping areas – the 5 Cs: curiosity, compassion, creativity, collaboration and courage.

1 Curiosity

Understanding who you are requires you to challenge yourself, consciously and intermittently - your decisions, reasons and beliefs. Where are you heading? What difference do you want to make?  Are you playing to win or playing not to lose? What excuses are you making? Becoming acutely aware of your desires, your values, your limiting habits and your natural strengths will help you to plan and answer these questions. Your plan need not be detailed, but it does need to exist and your priorities scheduled.

Empathy requires you not only to ask the right questions of others but to be fully present so that you really listen to their answers, verbal and non-verbal, and truly understand their perspectives.

Beware of ‘group think’ that can come from only socialising within your profession. Manage your own unconscious bias by mixing up your social life and immersing yourself in books, newspapers and podcasts for alternative perspectives.

2 Compassion
Support other women and be aware of intersectionality and celebrate rather than tolerate differences. People will always remember how you made them feel and it takes less than a minute to create human connection with the right choice of words.

Self-compassion is essential to prevent burnout so focus on work aligned with your strengths and outcomes you can control. Get comfortable with setting boundaries, delegating and prioritising.  Recognise when you need to replenish. Living with chronic stress is not a prerequisite for leadership but resilience through recognition and replenishment is. Don’t be disheartened if things don’t go to plan – adversity can be a gift so be patient.

Be conscious of your inner critic - we all have one! As a woman yours might be louder if you’re working in a male-dominated environment. The key to quietening your inner critic is to acknowledge and reassure it, rather than trying to ignore or fight it. Ask yourself what evidence you have to believe your inner critic and how up to date is that evidence? Regularly acknowledging and celebrating your successes, however small, helps to keep imposter feelings at bay.

Five positives are required to balance every negative experience so be kind to yourself in what you think, say and do. Internalising negative emotion leads to self-doubt and keeps you stuck but letting go and being thankful for the learning keeps you moving forward.

3 Creativity
Creativity diminishes as you grow out of childhood and become less playful. However, it’s really important to remain creative as this enhances your problem-solving and decision-making skills by strengthening the neurological pathways between both hemispheres of your brain. So nurture your creative hobbies and schedule time for them routinely. This protected time is also an opportunity to replenish your energy levels for your wellbeing.

Be flexible with your thoughts and actions. Interpret negative results from a positive perspective. Choose to believe you are more confident than you are by behaving like one of your role models. Notice the difference in your outcomes as a consequence.

Be more imaginative about who you could contact to grow your network, provide value for or request support from. Don’t assume they won’t be interested. Reaching out like this could result in mentoring, sponsorship or other possibilities.

4 Collaboration
By collaboration, I don’t just mean reaching out to and working with others, which of course is essential as no one can progress or lead alone, but also collaborating with your core values and natural strengths. Honour your values by living them and be seen to enjoy what you say is important to you. Being your authentic self will gain you the trust and respect of others and help you to engage them. Promote inclusion by asking male colleagues, family members and friends to address gender inequalities at home, school and work but also understand the concerns of those that resist.

Look for the inner child within those you dislike and be open to what is right in the arguments of those you disagree with. Surround yourself with people that want to see you succeed and re-evaluate your connections with those that don’t.

5 Courage
Seize every opportunity, however small or irrelevant it might seem at the time.  Step out of your comfort zone, develop skills and connect with people. Reframing your purpose, so that it’s not about you but something much bigger, will keep you motivated and help you to navigate fear and see opportunities rather than obstacles.

Develop and display your potential by actively participating in committees and clubs, speaking at events, mentoring trainees, publishing articles, organising large events, fundraising and networking. These skills are all transferable to business development but be sure to communicate your value to those who struggle to see beyond the non-profit elements. Raise your profile with a personal brand - what is it that you can navigate, solve and teach others as a result of your experiences? If you don’t define yourself, others will do it for you.

Aiming for perfection reduces your risk-taking, limits what you can achieve and can lead to burn-out. Find the courage to aim for excellence instead - experiment with the 80/20 rule and notice what impact this has on your productivity, growth and wellbeing.


Equality training, coaching and culture can ensure that organisations are inclusive, empowering more women to be leaders. The 5 Cs ensures that you stand out.  If I had to pick just one tool to use immediately, it would be your authenticity.  This is the source of your core strength; as Barbara Kingsolver said in Animal Dreams, ‘the truth needs so little rehearsal’.

Dr Sally Hanna


March 2021